Friday, July 19, 2024

Patriot Front members jailed, banned from downtown Cd'A

Staff Writer | July 21, 2023 3:36 PM

COEUR d’ALENE — A Kootenai County judge sent five members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front to jail Friday and banned them from the city's downtown area for a year, following their conviction for conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor.

Judge James Stow sentenced Devin W. Center, James J. Johnson, Forrest C. Rankin, Derek J. Smith and Robert B. Whitted to five days in jail with two days credit for time served. That means they will serve three days of actual jail time for planning to incite a riot during last year’s Pride in the Park celebration in City Park.

Bailiffs handcuffed the Patriot Front members and escorted them out of the courthouse after sentencing. They will be released Sunday evening.

The Patriot Front members must each pay a $1,000 fine, minus the $300 bail they posted after their original arrest.

Stow placed the defendants on unsupervised probation for one year. He also granted withheld judgment in the case, which means the charges can be retroactively dismissed after the defendants successfully complete probation.

While they’re on probation, the men are forbidden from coming within 2 miles of City Park, unless they have specific business at the Kootenai County courthouse related to their own cases.

Before handing down the sentence, Stow emphasized that his intent was not to punish the defendants for beliefs or speech.

Rather, he said the sentence must reflect the gravity of the offense and reinforce that individuals must respect the law and the rights of others when exercising their own rights.

“There does have to be a message sent,” Stow said.

Prosecutors had recommended the maximum fine of $5,000, as well as the maximum sentence of a year in jail, with 10 days of actual jail time and 40 hours of community service.

Wes Somerton, chief criminal deputy city attorney for Coeur d’Alene, suggested the Patriot Front members could be made to volunteer at a human rights organization in order to show them other viewpoints.

“Other people’s rights and voices do have a place in the fabric of America,” Somerton said.

In court Friday, the defendants each addressed the court, saying they respected the jury’s decision but maintained that their intent was to peacefully protest in Coeur d’Alene, not incite a riot.

All five men are still active members of Patriot Front.

“We’ve still stuck with this organization because we believe we were correct in what we did and we believe our organization seeks to better ourselves to benefit our community,” Center said.

In their testimony, several defendants acknowledged that Patriot Front promotes the idea that only white people are American and all others are foreign to this country.

The men said they came from across the country and converged on Coeur d’Alene June 11, 2022, in order to protest a drag performance, though they didn’t know where they would be protesting until they arrived. That information was withheld from most members, they said, to lower the chances of opposing groups or law enforcement catching wind of the plan.

Patriot Front’s plans were interrupted after a local man spotted “a little army” pile into the back of a U-Haul truck and head toward downtown Coeur d’Alene. The man called 911 to report what he’d seen.

Law enforcement, who were already out in force due to threats of violence at multiple large events that day, stopped the U-Haul truck just before it arrived at City Park, where a Pride celebration was occurring. Police found 31 members of Patriot Front in the vehicle, equipped with body armor and shields.

Planning documents showed that Patriot Front planned to push into City Park with shields and establish a “confrontational dynamic” while some members deployed smoke and leader Thomas Rousseau gave a speech that prosecutors said was designed to provoke Pride attendees to retaliate.

In court Friday, the five convicted Patriot Front members said they faced backlash after the mass arrest. Some lost their jobs, though all are now employed. Center said he was unable to graduate from the University of Arkansas, while Whitted said his bank account was closed.

“The news and drama from this matter has been far away from our homes,” Center said. “It has followed us ever since that date, and we have all suffered some form of big or small consequences of our actions. It has affected our lives fairly seriously in many cases.”

Spokane-based defense attorney Robert Sargent continued to plead his clients’ innocence Friday.

“They’re probably convicted for their clothing and the content of their message,” Sargent said. “They may, in the future, have a group meeting to change their clothing because I do think that affected a lot of things.”

Both prosecutors and Judge Stow noted that Patriot Front’s beliefs were not on trial in this case, but their conduct was.

“Maybe they were unartfully expressing freedom of speech,” Sargent said. “They’re not lawyers. They’re young men. But they have learned some lessons, maybe about presentation.”

Somerton said Friday it’s not yet known how Thursday’s conviction might affect the 25 ongoing Patriot Front cases.

Utah resident Alexander Sisenstein pleaded guilty last year to the amended misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace. He received the sentence recommended by prosecutors: 180 days in jail with 179 days suspended and credit for time served, as well as two years of unsupervised probation and a $500 fine.

In a separate matter, Jared Boyce, also of Utah, pleaded guilty to nine felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and a misdemeanor count of dealing in material harmful to a minor. He was sentenced to one year in jail and is expected to face trial in Coeur d’Alene sometime after he completes the sentence.